Construction of hiker-biker trail will begin next month

Some residents concerned about crime, safety issues

Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006

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Construction of the Matthew Henson Hiker-Biker Trail from Aspen Hill to Layhill will begin Nov. 6, despite continued objections from residents who are worried the trail might bring crime to their neighborhoods.

Park and Planning officials met with area residents last week at the Stoneybrook Recreation Building to provide information on a construction timetable and answer questions residents might have, but reiterated that the project is a done deal.

‘‘This type of meeting is something we haven’t done in the past,” said Bob Kane, construction manager, adding that Park and Planning decided to hold the meeting because of concerns from residents.

Approved by Park and Planning and the Montgomery County Council in April 2003, the Matthew Henson Hiker-Biker Trail will begin at Rock Creek Trail at Winding Creek Local Park near Aspen Hill and Veirs Mill roads. It will go northeast through Matthew Henson State Park and along a stand of trees near Hewitt Avenue and Bel Pre Elementary School. From there, it will continue east across Layhill Road to Alderton Road, near Indian Spring Country Club, measuring about 4.4 miles.

The asphalt trail will feature wooden boardwalks over wetlands to minimize environmental damage, said Marian Elsasser, project manager.

The $3.9 million construction contract was awarded to JG Garcete Inc. of Hyattsville.

Construction will start in the section from Georgia Avenue to Alderton Road, Elsasser said, because the Maryland Department of Environmental Protection will be completing stream restoration of Turkey Branch from Veirs Mill Road to Georgia Avenue.

Elsasser said Park and Planning will open the trail in phases. If all goes according to plan, the hiker-biker trail will be completed within two years.

However, the trail has faced a great deal of opposition from members of the Aspen Hill Civic Association and the Strathmore-Bel Pre Civic Association, many of whom were present at the Oct. 17 meeting.

Many long-time residents of Aspen Hill and Layhill neighborhoods said they feared a hard-surface trail would increase access for criminals.

Arlene Thorne, a Strathmore-Bel Pre Civic Association board member, wanted to know if there would be fencing to separate the trail from homeowners’ properties, adding she was concerned about security. She also noted that in a previous public meeting, residents were promised cypress trees.

But Elsasser said there would be no fencing and although some kind of vegetation would be planted, not the trees that Thorne spoke of.

Kane said Maryland-National Capital Park Police would patrol the trail daily. ‘‘The fact is that it is easier to patrol trails,” he said. ‘‘According to studies we have seen, the crime on trails is negligible compared to crime as a whole.”

Thorne also expressed concern over how pedestrians would cross Veirs Mill Road to get from Winding Creek Local Park, south of Veirs Mill, to the other side of the trail.

‘‘Do they really expect us to cross seven lanes of traffic?” she asked.

State Highway Administration spokesman Chuck Gischlar said the state is pursuing a crosswalk, which would be located by Turkey Branch Parkway and Veirs Mill Road.

Gischlar said the hatched crosswalk would be at-grade or ground level, with flashers in advance of the crosswalk and warning signs. Hikers and bikers would cross and then wait in a grassy median before crossing to the other side of the trail. He said the median would be protected by concrete barriers on either side.

‘‘We’re pursuing the Turkey Branch crossing because it’s closer in line with the trail,” he said Friday afternoon, adding a traffic light at Parkland Drive is about 1,000 feet away.

Barbara Eldredge said she received little comfort from the meeting. ‘‘[The trail is] 50 feet from my property line,” said Eldredge, a resident of Layhill Village. ‘‘I’m concerned about crime, noise, lack of privacy. It’s been quiet — in three years, I’ve seen maybe three people back there. I’m also concerned about liability, trespassing and insufficient buffer plants. In a way, it’s just like they put a road in my back yard.”

However, others have expressed excitement about the trail. ‘‘The Matthew Henson Trail will provide an attractive outdoor experience to about 16,000 households that are within a mile of the trail,” said Bill Michie of Aspen Hill, a member of the Montgomery Bicycle Advocates.

‘‘Many community destinations connect to the trail, including churches, schools, local parks, shopping centers and recreation. The 4.5-mile trail is a critical piece of the planned paved trail network. The Matthew Henson trail will be the missing east-west link connecting the Northwest Branch⁄Sligo Creek Trail corridor to the Rock Creek Trail corridor.”